The Power Line Show, Episode 18: Obama’s Global Crack-Up, With Pete Wehner

Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner

Last night, Steve, Paul and I were joined by Pete Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for a discussion of the comprehensive failures of the Obama administration in foreign policy. The conversation took off from Pete’s recent Commentary article, “Counting Up Obama’s Cataclysmic Foreign Policy Failures.” Pete then stayed with us for a spirited discussion of “reform conservatism,” a movement with which he is identified. It is a terrific interview that, among other things, seeks to answer the question: why do the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives consistently fail?

We rounded out the podcast with a conversation about the return of rampant crime to urban America, the Left’s attack on the police, and related issues. Episode 18 should not be missed!

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Life lessons from Justice Thomas

Remembering This is the season of formulaic left-wing commencement speeches. Contributing to the cause of true “diversity” — diversity in the life of the mind — Zev Chafets has edited a volume of heterodox commencement speeches under the title Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses.

There are several speeches that I find inspirational and/or moving and/or thought-provoking in the book. One that is all of the above, and that I think is my favorite (if I had to choose one, which for this purpose I do), is Justice Clarence Thomas’s, published under the title “Do Your Best To Be Your Best.” Through the courtesies of the publisher, we are posting the text of Justice Thomas’s 2008 commencement speech at the University of Georgia below as edited for publication in the book. I’m not given to predictions, but in this case I want to make an exception. I predict you will enjoy this:

One of the sobering realizations that I came to while thinking about and preparing to be here today is that most of the graduates from the undergraduate program had not started the first grade when I went onto the Court. Life comes at you fast, and passes even faster.

In 1971, when I sat where you all are now sitting as graduates, I was just glad to be done with college. I was both scared and anxious about the rest of my life. My grandmother and mother were both there in the stadium bleachers to support me and to be there for my wedding the next day. Absent was the one person I wanted and needed there—my grandfather. Mired in a distracting mixture of fear, apprehension, and sadness, I wondered just what would happen next. How would I repay my student loans? Where would I live?

Somewhere through this fog of self-absorbed confusion, I barely noticed the graduation speaker. His name was Michael Harrington, the author of the then-popular book The Other America: Poverty in the United States, and himself a Holy Cross graduate. He seemed to be exhorting us on to solve the problems of poverty and injustice. As important as those are, I, like most people sitting there that day, was more focused on whether I would be able to solve my own problems, so that I would not become a problem for, or a burden to, others.

So having sat where you are sitting today, I have no illusion that I am at the center of your attention, nor do I think that what I have to say will be long remembered. But I do humbly request a few moments of your attention, recognizing that there is much going on in your lives. I promise that I will not clutter up your special day with my own ruminations about jurisprudence, although I do have an interest in discussing, at some point, my views on the Dormant Commerce Clause. [laughter] I take that as a lack of interest.

I will say in passing, however, that even today, after almost seventeen years on the Court, many of the lessons that I learned about life and academics still serve me well on the Court and in life. Believe me, what you have learned thus far really matters and matters greatly.

I will also not bore you with another litany of complaints or grievances, or exhortations to solve the problems that none of us of advanced years have been able to solve, or in some cases, even understand. It seems to be standard fare these days to charge young people to go out and do great things. Often what is meant is that they do something “out there” as opposed to their personal lives. Many years ago, when I read Dickens’s novel Bleak House, I was fascinated by Mrs. Jellyby’s obsession with her telescopic philanthropy—her great projects in Africa—while at the same time her task at hand went undone.

Realistically, the great battles for most of us involve conquering ourselves and discharging our duties at hand. These are the building blocks for the great things.

When I take stock of the nearly six decades of my life, the great people are mostly the people of my youth—my grandparents, my relatives, my neighbors, my teachers. One of the things they all had in common was the way they discharged their daily duties and their daily responsibilities—conscientiously and without complaint or grievance. I think of relatives like Cousin Hattie, who cleaned rooms at the Midway Hotel in Liberty County; her husband, Cousin Robert, who cut grass and farmed; and Miss Gertrude, who labored as a maid.

They went about their lives, doing their best with what they had, knowing all the while that this was not necessarily fair. They played the hand they were dealt. And, through it all, they were unfailingly good, kind, and decent people whose unrequited love for our great country and hope for our future were shining examples for us to emulate in our own struggles.

Whether in the merciless summer heat of Liberty County or the sudden downpours at the bus stop at Henry and East Broad streets in Savannah, they taught us how to live with personal dignity and respect for one another. To this day, the people who do their jobs, raise their families, and sacrifice so that we can gather here in peace are my heroes, from whom I draw great inspiration.

Quite a lot has happened in my lifetime, as I alluded to earlier. Monumental events involving constitutional and civil rights have made it possible for me to stand here today, when I could not sit there years ago as a college graduate. There are also the technological advances: from the scrub board to the automatic washing machine; the dishwasher (that is one of my personal favorites); the television; the computer; the iPod; and of course the now omnipresent cell phone.

My wife, who is my best friend in the world, often comments on the range of my life. I have been blessed to know and befriend the best and the least educated, the wealthiest and the poorest, the healthy and the physically challenged. I have seen a lot in my journey from the black soil of South Georgia to the white marble of the Supreme Court. It has been a longer journey than the miles from there to Washington could ever suggest. Along the way, I have learned many lessons. There is a saying that if you want to know what is down the road, ask the person who is coming back.

Today I am coming back down the dusty and difficult road of my life to meet at the commencement of your journey, the beginning of your journey, through the rest of your lives. I would just like to take a few more minutes of your precious time here at the side of this road between the hedges. I have just a few modest suggestions; I promise I will not hold you up very long.

First, show gratitude and appreciation. None of you, not one of you, made it here entirely on your own. There are people in your lives who gave you birth, who raised you and loved you, even when you were not so lovable. Thank the people who put up with your antics and loved you through it all. Thank the people who paid your tuition and your expenses. There are those who helped and counseled you through difficult times or when you made hard decisions. There are those who were compassionate enough to tell you what you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear. Take some time today to thank them.

Don’t put it off; some of us did.

I never took the time to properly thank my grandparents, the two people who saved my life and made it possible for me to stand here today. Deep down, I know they understand, as they always did and as parents always seem to find a way to understand. But it is still a burden that I will carry to my grave. Take some time to thank those who helped you.

A simple thank-you will do wonders. You may never know how much that expression of gratitude will mean. Twenty-five years ago, I went to visit my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Virgilius, for the first time since high school. I thanked her for all she had done for me and for being compassionate enough to tell me about my deficiencies when I was in the eighth grade. I told her that I assumed that after more than forty years of teaching, I was among a long list of students who had come back to thank her. She said, “No, you’re the first.”

One additional word about her. On one of my recent visits to her at the retirement convent in New Jersey, she showed a friend and me her tiny room. It had a small bed, a bureau, and a chair. While telling us about her room, she listed the items to be given away after her death. She’s almost ninety-five years old now. A rosary to her niece; a prayer book to the Franciscan sisters. There was a large photo of her and me on her bureau. Lovingly embracing it, she said, “This goes in my coffin with me.”

Take a few minutes today to say thank you to anyone who helped you get here. Then try to live your lives as if you really appreciate their help and the good it has done in your lives. Earn the right to have been helped by the way you live your lives.

Next, remember that life is not easy for any of us. It will probably not be fair, and it certainly is not all about you. The gray hair and wrinkles you see on older people have been earned the hard way, by living and dealing with the challenges of life. When I was a young adult and labored under the delusion of my own omniscience, I thought I knew more than I actually did. That is a function of youth.

With the wisdom that only comes with the passage of years, the older folks warned me presciently and ominously, “Son, you just live long enough and you’ll see.” They were right; oh, so right. Life is humbling and can be hard, very hard. It is a series of decisions, some harder than others, some good and, unfortunately, too many of them bad. It will be up to each of you to make as many good decisions as possible and to limit the bad ones, then to learn from all of them. But I will urge you to resist when those around you insist on making the bad decisions. Being accepted or popular with those doing wrong is an awful Faustian bargain and, as with all Faustian bargains, not worth it. It is never wrong to do the right thing. It may be hard, but never wrong.

Each of you is about to begin a new journey. Whatever that may be, do it well. If you are going to a new job or the military or to graduate school, do it to the best of your abilities. Each year at the Court I hire four new law clerks. They are the best of the best. The major difference between them and most of their classmates is self-discipline. By self-discipline, I mean doing what you are supposed to do and not doing what you aren’t supposed to do.

Though there are many enticements and distractions, it is up to each of you to take care of your respective business. Remember, the rewards of self-indulgence are not nearly as great as the rewards of self-discipline.

But even as you take care of business, there are a few other necessities for the journey. At the very top of the list are the three F’s—faith, family, and friends. When all else fails and we feel like prodigal sons and daughters, they will always be there, even if we don’t deserve them. Having needed them, I know they will always be your saving grace.

Trustworthiness and honesty are next. If you can’t be trusted with small matters, how can you be trusted with important ones? It may be hard to be honest, but it is never wrong. For my part, I can only work with honest people. I need to be able to trust them, and so will you.

Conscientiousness and timeliness are invaluable habits and character traits. As I tell my law clerks, I want my work done right and I want it on time. No matter what you do, do it right and do it on time. My brother used to say that he hurried up to be early so he could wait. Not a bad idea.

Stay positive. There will be many around you who are cynical and negative. These cause cancers of the spirit and they add nothing worthwhile. Don’t inhale their secondhand cynicism and negativism. Some, even those with the most opportunities in this, the greatest country, will complain and grieve ceaselessly, ad infinitum and ad absurdum. It may be fair to ask them, as they complain about the lack of perfection in others and our imperfect institutions, just what they themselves are perfect at.

Look, many have been angry at me because I refuse to be angry, bitter, or full of grievances, and some will be angry at you for not becoming agents in their most recent cynical causes. Don’t worry about it. No monuments are ever built to cynics. Associate with people who add to your lives, not subtract; people you are comfortable introducing to the best people in your lives—your parents, your family, your friends, your mentors, your ministers.

Always have good manners. This is a time-honored tradition and trait; it is not old-fashioned. Good manners will open doors that nothing else will. And given the choice between two competent persons, most of us will opt to hire the one with good manners. For example, no matter what older adults say about calling them by their first names, don’t. Believe me, they remember, and not as kindly as you might think. I thank God my grandparents made me put a handle on grown folks’ names and taught me to say “please” and “thank you.”

Finally, the Golden Rule that is virtually universal—treat others the way you want to be treated. Indeed, when others hurt you, you may well be required to treat them far better than they treated you and far better than human nature would suggest they deserve. Be better than they are.

Help others as you wanted and needed to be helped. If you want to receive kindness, respect, and compassion, you must first give them. But to do that, you must first have them your- selves to give. Almost thirty years ago, a janitor in the U.S. Senate with whom I often spoke pulled me aside. I must have looked like the weight of the world was on my shoulders; at the very least, I must have looked despondent, not an uncommon look for a young man with common difficulties and hoping to make some difference in the lives of others. In sober, measured, and nearly toothless diction, he counseled me, “Son, you cannot give what you do not have.” He was right, and merely echoed what I had heard throughout my youth in South Georgia.

My grandfather would look at the fields late in the summer and make the point that we could not give to others if we had not worked all summer to plant, till, and harvest. As a child, that meant little; as a man, I know he was right.

There are no guarantees in life, but even with all its uncertainties and challenges it is worth living the right way. As you commence the next chapter in your young lives, I urge you to do your best to be your best. Each of you is a precious building block for your families, your university, your communities, and our great country. It is truly up to each of you to decide exactly what kind of building blocks you will be.

Excerpted from Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses, edited by Zev Chafets, in agreement with Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Zev Chafets 2015.

The Week in Pictures: Liberal Crack Up Edition

In looking for a theme for the week, it is hard to escape noticing the senescence of liberalism across the board. Obama is lame even for a lame duck, with the relentless advance of ISIS making a hash of his pronouncements about how we were on the road to defeating them. Bernie Sanders is stuck in a Galbraithian time warp; surely he’ll advocate regulating advertising after we ban Ban Roll-On. Mad men indeed. The steady drip-drip of Clinton sleeze continues. No wonder half the Republican Party is running for president; the nomination looks worth having next year. Maybe we should just draw lots to pick the nominee.

Hillary Nurse Reacthed copy

Hillary Benghazi Again copy Hillary Bonnie and clod copy Hillary credibility copy Hillary Steph again copy Hillary Scandal copy

Baggage copy

Presidential Lgeacies copy

Exec Amnesty copy

Obama Border Control copy

pp-ObamaKirk copy

Sanders essay copy

Sanders Air Freshener copy

Global Warming Alert copy EPA copy Tax the air copy Snow Thing of th ePast copy Climate change ISIS copy Warming Statue copy Warming Fearmongers copy Warming Non Believer copy

Nice! Somebody made a meme of my greatest magazine cover ever.

Nice! Somebody made a meme of my greatest magazine cover ever.

Climate change when copy

Soccer Mafia copy

I highly doubt this.

I highly doubt this.

Greatest name Ever? copy Rick Springfield copy Literary Spoilers copy

Irony 1 copy Progressive Christianity copy Preposition Me copy STD Prevention copy 1453 Inside job copy Tofu Prep copy

And finally. . .

Hot 343 copy

Economic mobility and government activism

Michael Gerson wrote today about “the rhetoric of mobility” — in other words, the way liberals and conservatives talk about the issue of economic mobility. He finds the rhetoric of both sides, as the well views behind it, wanting.

Gerson’s piece is thoughtful, as usual. But it should be of concern to conservatives who worry that “reform conservatism,” a movement with which Gerson is associated, may to some extent represent a misguided threat to traditional, limited government conservatism.

Two passages stand out. First, Gerson writes:

The parties have backed into America’s most urgent domestic priority: resisting the development of a class-based society in which birth equals destiny. This division runs like an ugly, concrete wall across the American ideal.

On one side are the wealthy and educated, living in communities characterized by greater family stability, economic opportunity and neighborhood cohesion. On the other side is the working class, living in communities featuring economic stagnation, family instability and neighborhood breakdown.

The best advice for success? Be born on the right side of the wall. That is not a very American-sounding answer.

(Emphasis added)

I submit that it’s not very American-sounding, and certainly not conservative-sounding, to assume that the “best advice for success” is to “be born on the right side of the wall.”

Why isn’t the best advice for success to behave the way those on the right side of the wall tend to? In other words, take education seriously; don’t have children when you are still a child; don’t commit crimes; don’t abuse hard drugs; get married before having children; and once married, try hard to stay married.

What is the evidence that those on born on the wrong side of the wall but follow this advice are unlikely to succeed? What is the evidence that those born on the right side of the wall but ignore the advice are likely to?

Gerson doesn’t point to any. His fatalism is unpersuasive.

In the next paragraph, Gerson says this:

The entry-level commitment for Republicans in this debate is a recognition that equality of opportunity is not a natural state; it is a social and political achievement. Economic growth is important — but its benefits are shared only if people have the knowledge and human capital to succeed in a modern economy. This preparation requires active, effective, reform-oriented government at every level — and forbids an ideological appeal that is merely anti-government.

(Emphasis added)

Republicans (and conservatives) should indeed recognize the importance of people possessing the knowledge and human capital needed to succeed in a modern economy. Moreover, there are things the government can and should do to promote the supply of such knowledge and human capital. Foremost among them is improving education by encouraging, or at least not thwarting, school choice.

But it sounds like Gerson envisages a much more active role for government, including the feds. Keep in mind that much of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program was built on the idea of the federal government as supplier of knowledge and human capital. Head Start and the Job Corps are two examples, and not the worst. Government job training programs in general have been a staple of the liberal agenda for at least half a century.

Is an expansion of this agenda the kind of active, effective, reform-oriented government involvement what Gerson has in mind? I don’t know.

Regardless, I fear that if reform conservatism embraces the notion of government activism to promote the supply of human capital — and forbids appeals that are anti-government in the sense of expressing great skepticism about government’s ability to succeed in this endeavor — it will be unable to resist the pull towards a Great Society style agenda.

The Economy Disappoints Again. What Could Be the Problem?

As you probably have already seen, the Commerce Department announced today that GDP contracted by an annual rate of 0.7% in the first quarter of 2015, a downward revision from the previously estimated 0.2% growth. This continues a pattern that many observers find puzzling and disappointing. This graphic shows quarterly GDP growth from the first quarter of 2009 to the present; the last bar would need to be changed to -.7%. Click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.07.02 AM

The pattern isn’t hard to spot. The recession ostensibly ended after the second quarter of 2009, but ever since, whenever the economy starts to grow, it falls back. The Wall Street Journal notes:

The economy has now contracted in three separate quarters since the recession ended in mid-2009, a series of disappointments unmatched since the expansions of the 1950s.

The administration always offers excuses for the economy’s inadequate performance on its watch–most recently, cold weather–but the common denominator is an anti-business, anti-growth administration that spends too much, wastes too much, incurs too much debt, and imposes too many costly regulations. Michael Ramirez has the right idea; click to enlarge:


Sanders the Socialist Crooner

Sanders Album copyI decided to take a pass on the story that Bernie Sanders misfired with some kind of rape fantasy essay way back in his college years (though since it was fair game to jump on Mitt Romney for giving some kid an atomic wedgie 50 years ago in prep school was fair game, then Sanders deserves the full proctology treatment), but his attempt at a folk song ambum is truly unforgivable. (What is it about leftist and folk songs, anyway?)

Scroll down and try the two sound links at this Seven Days site—one for “This Land Is Your Land,” and “We Shall Overcome,” though your ears may never overcome this.

ACLU: Minneapolis Police Are Racist, Should Do Less Policing

The Minneapolis Star Tribune cites a report by the American Civil Liberties Union on race and law enforcement in Minneapolis:

People of color are more likely to be arrested for low-level crimes in Minneapolis compared to their white counterparts, according to a detailed study released Thursday of thousands of arrests made by city police. …

Picking up the Pieces: Policing in America, a Minneapolis Case Study shows that blacks were 8.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for minor offenses, which are violations that are punished by fines of $3,000 or less and/or a year or less in jail. Native Americans were 8.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested. Among young people ages 17 and under, black youth were 5.8 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than white youth; for Native Americans, this figure was 7.7.

Low-level offenses include dozens of crimes such as driving an uninsured vehicle, possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle, panhandling, consuming alcohol in public, public urination, and many more. The ACLU report is here. This chart sets out the basic data:


Observers of the urban scene probably won’t be shocked by these numbers. But one thing may already have jumped out at you: while the ACLU report goes on and on about “people of color” being victimized by the police, not all people of color are, apparently, created equal. Note that the disparity between population and arrests is greater for Asians than for African-Americans and Indians, only in the opposite direction. Asians account for 6% of the population of Minneapolis, but only 1% of the low-level arrests.

Why might that be? Astonishingly, neither the ACLU report nor the Star Tribune story on it ever mentions the Asian “disparity,” even though the ACLU casually assumes that “[t]he numbers show a startling disparity in the way police enforce low-level offenses.” Would the ACLU have us believe that the Minneapolis police are conspiring to cover up low-level crimes by Asians? Presumably not: it is obvious that Asians are “under-represented” among such arrests because they rarely commit such crimes.

But if that is true, the whole racism hypothesis falls apart. How do we know that blacks and Indians are not “over-represented” in low-level arrests because they commit a disproportionate number of such crimes? In fact, it is a well-known and easily documented fact that these demographic groups are over-represented in the criminal population. The ACLU report never mentions this uncomfortable fact.

The report makes just one effort to show that the relatively large number of low-level arrests of African-Americans is due to racism:

One of the more interesting disparities the ACLU’s analysis of low-level arrests by the Minneapolis Police Department uncovered was the greater likelihood of Black drivers being arrested for what we call “active driving violations” during summer daylight hours than at night. The category includes offenses like careless driving, failure to use a turn signal, speeding, and unlawful acceleration.

The Black/white racial disparities for active driving violation arrests in June, July, and August were worse during daylight hours and lower at night through the early morning. At 2 p.m., when officers are more likely able to identify the race of drivers before pulling them over, a Black person was over 9 times more likely to be arrested for an active driving violation than a white person.

By contrast, at 3 a.m., when visibility is limited and officers are less likely to be able to identify the race of drivers before pulling them over, the Black/white racial disparity is far lower, with Black drivers twice as likely to be arrested. This suggests racial profiling by law enforcement.


Actually, this chart suggests the opposite of the ACLU’s interpretation. I don’t know why the “disparity” in active driving arrests is four times as great at 2 p.m. as at 8 a.m., but it isn’t because the police officer can see the race of the driver. Eight o’clock in the morning, in Minnesota in the summer, is broad daylight. A police officer can see the driver as well at 8:00 as at 2:00. So whatever the explanation might be, that isn’t it.

The report also includes data strongly suggesting that the racism hypothesis is wrong. A low-level arrest can end in one of two ways: the offender can be booked and processed through jail, or he can be cited and released. If one assumes that Minneapolis officers are wrongly arresting African-Americans out of racial animus, then we should also find that African-Americans are treated worse post-arrest. But the report admits that this is not the case:

[A]lthough Black people were arrested for low-level offenses at far higher rates than white people, of those who were arrested, there was not a significant difference in how frequently police officers booked Black arrestees and white arrestees. It’s one data point where the police treatment of white and Black people in Minneapolis was relatively the same.


The ACLU’s conclusion: “to be a person of color in the city is to be over-policed.” So how does the ACLU propose to remedy Minneapolis’s disparity in low-level arrests? In large part, through less policing.

The ACLU’s recommended reforms include:

* Ensuring that MPD officers are evaluated in a way that does not reward them based on the number of stops and low-level arrests they make; and that they face discipline for unnecessary uses of force;

* Making information public about what methods are used to determine when and if an officer will face punishment;

* Improving MPD’s current policy that explicitly bans racial profiling and other discriminatory behaviors;

* Prohibiting officers from asking people if they can search them if they have no legal reason;

* Keeping data, and making it publicly available on a regular basis, in a format that makes it more accessible and includes information from all interactions with the police including ones that do not result in an arrest, but were merely suspicious person stops, frisks, or searches;

* Ensuring that raw data is analyzed by an independent party on a regular basis to identify disparities that negatively affect communities of color or other marginalized communities;

* Establishing an empowered civilian review body that has authority to discipline officers when necessary…

You get the drift: ease off on offenders and crack down on the police, the approach that has worked so well in Baltimore. This is foolishness, but foolishness that perhaps follows inevitably if you assume that every disparity (or rather, every convenient disparity) is per se evidence of race discrimination.